Despite spending nearly 30 years in the automotive industry, when I discovered a puddle of oil beneath my car, I panicked. I’m a writer, not a mechanic, so I didn’t know exactly where to start. We all have car care questions we don’t want to ask. At the time, my 2011 Ford Fiesta had barely 45,000 miles on the odometer, so an oil drip seemed unlikely. Was there a serious problem with my engine?
When it comes to maintenance and repair, it’s likely that you generally consult a professional mechanic for most of your car care questions or seek out free advice from friends and colleagues. Here’s some free advice that may answer your burning car care questions and have you feeling like a mechanic in no time.
Check the Oil Level
Check the oil level of your car before you start it to ensure that the leak did not leave an inadequate amount of oil in the engine. This would result from a rusted-out oil pan or other serious problem. If your dipstick reads out regularly, rest assured that it is a slow drip and, thus, will not necessitate a call to a tow company to get your car safely to the shop.
If the oil level is low, however, the situation is a bit harder. Before you do anything else, add enough oil to bring it to a proper level, as indicated on the dipstick (with the car parked on a flat and level surface). Never drive a car without enough oil in the crankcase; that can cause catastrophic engine damage. If you don’t have oil on hand, though, you may be in for a call to the local tow truck.
Find the Source of the Oil Leak
Common sources of oil leaks include valve cover gaskets, oil pan gaskets, and oil filters. Oil could also leak from a loose filler cap or drain plug. Cracked external oil lines, if applicable, are also a suspect. Though less likely, it’s possible that an oil leak could result from a damaged oil pan or a failed head gasket. Other than the head gasket, though, these are relatively simple repairs.
Never Ignore a Leak
If you discover an oil leak, do not ignore it or continue to drive. Oil is your engine’s blood, and if you continue to drip and drive you may end up with a much bigger mess to deal with in the form of costly engine repairs, not to mention stained driveways and possible environmental damage.
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Images courtesy of Brandy A. Schaffels.